It should be a busy and transformative offseason for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and now the club has a head-start on it.
Speedy winger Kasperi Kapanen has been traded back to the Pittsburgh Penguins after five seasons with the Maple Leafs organization, and in exchange Toronto will receive a first-round selection. A former first-round pick of the Penguins originally, Kapanen’s time with the Leafs has come full circle after he served as the key return asset in the trade that sent Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh back in 2015.
Toronto will now select in the first round, 15th overall, in the upcoming NHL Draft after dealing its original pick to the Carolina Hurricanes in order to dump Patrick Marleau’s salary. What’s more, at least in the immediate term, the Maple Leafs will create $3.2 million in cap space that will be used to shore up the clear deficiencies on a roster that has failed to meet expectations over the last two seasons.
Still, while it was likely that Kapanen was on the move anyway, the penalty for agreeing to the third season on Marleau’s free-agent contract back in 2017 is, in a way, the utility forward, who the Leafs thought enough of at a time to spend $10 million on.
Pontus Aberg and prospect Jesper Lindgren are also heading to Pittsburgh as part of he deal, while the Leafs will take back depth winger Evan Rodrigues, defenceman David Warsofsky and centre Filip Hallander, a top prospect in the Penguins’ system.
Kapanen has had what might be best described as a solid but unspectacular tenure with the Maple Leafs. He never quite carved out a consistent and reliable role with the organization, and largely failed to deliver value on his first-round pedigree despite chipping in offensively and functioning reasonably well as a penalty killer.
He scored 13 goals and finished with 36 points in 69 games this past season, which was the first of a three-year, $9.6 million extension signed after a career season in 2018-19 that featured 20 goals and 44 points.
While the salary implications and inefficiencies with the roster have meant that players would become disposable, what might have led to Kapanen’s departure was his repeated failures to step into a top-six function with any amount of success.
Kapanen began his season as a fill-in for Zach Hyman on a line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner, and after just a handful of games he was demoted back to his secondary role. Unable to prove that his ceiling is anything more than a third-line winger, the Leafs seem to have made the conscious — and correct — decision that paying a premium for a bottom-six forward was simply untenable given their salary cap constraints.
While the Leafs obviously have less to show for the original Kessel deal, they will continue paying $1.2 million in retained salary on the former star sniper, who is now with the Arizona Coyotes.
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